Continuing on the Contraceptive Options series, today we have Lauren sharing with us why her and hubby, Sam, love using condoms. Lauren writes at Hobo Mama and is co-founder of the Natural Parents Network, and it’s a huge honour for me to be hosting her interesting (and amusing) post. I hope you enjoy it too!
I would like to present to you … the condom.
Not any particular condoms, either, just male condoms in general.
I’d like to recommend them to you for their consideration as a birth-control method for male-female sexual couples interested in preventing pregnancy, due to their many benefits:
- Economical — in my own comparisons with other birth-control methods, condoms are a frugal choice.
- Compatible — since they’re non-hormonal, you can use them while breastfeeding or in preparation for trying to conceive, and they won’t interfere with tracking your cycle.
- Convenient — less mess. Don’t make me over-explain that.
- Easy — less chance of user error than remembering to take a pill every day at the same time or schedule an appointment for a shot or other procedure. I mean, yes, some prep is needed, but that’s what practice is for.
- Effective — somewhere around 90-98%. More on that later, but suffice it to say — no “oops” babies here so far!
- Reversible — want another baby? You got it.
Now, obviously male condoms are also a great choice for preventing (potential or known) sexually transmitted diseases, so if you know you need to use condoms with your partner, then keep on keeping on. I also cannot guide you if you need to use a particular method of birth control for medical reasons. This article’s more for people in a committed male-female relationship who want to prevent pregnancy, are monogamous, and could or do use a different method of birth control but could consider condoms instead.
OK, so, my back story. This is firmly in the TMI category, but you knew that going in, yes? And using “going in” right there just made me giggle. Ah, writing about sex…
I started out my marriage on the birth control pill. I have severe acne, and one thing dermatologists loved to prescribe me was antibiotics. The antibiotics gave me a recurring yeast infection. And I do mean recurring. It turned out part of the reason was that my husband Sam and I were passing it back and forth to each other. Whoops! So my gynecologist told me we should start using condoms to protect each other.
Now, I have to explain that Sam and I come from a rather conservative religious background, and condoms were just not the done thing. Condoms were for … well, loose people. It took having them “prescribed” to me by a doctor for us to feel comfortable buying and using them. That seems quaintly squeamish in retrospect, but so it was. In fact, I’m kind of embarrassed to even mention this, but maybe it will help someone else also feel comfortable considering them.
It took awhile for Sam to get used to the difference in sensitivity, but once he did there were no problems. In fact, if you want sex to last longer (hint, hint), a condom can slow things down a little if the man’s not used to them. But, seriously, Sam doesn’t really even notice the difference now, and I never felt a difference (yes, even with those “ribbed for her pleasure” varieties), so if you or your man has tried condoms and found them awkward, give it at least several occasions before you rule them out. Think of it as an experiment. For science. Really test it out.
So, anyway, we used condoms off and on when I was having my little flare-ups due to my medication. The turning point, though, was when Sam got laid-off, we had to buy our own health insurance, and I started to reevaluate the cost of all of our medical care. Which brings me to Point #1:
Ed Note: In the UK, health care is free to residents, so doctor’s visits fees for contraceptives don’t apply, nor do the cost of the contraceptives. Condoms can be bought over the counter, and are quite expensive, but if you’re really hard up – no pun intended – you can get them free from your local clinic. I know ours will give you up to 30 free condoms every 90 days. (I just saw the sign on the door. Really.)
I compared birth control pills to condoms and realized even my generic pill on tri-monthly mail order was costing me about $0.50 a pop, plus doctor’s visits every six months for a refill at around $90 a visit. Assuming I would still go to the doctor yearly (or, ahem, every other year … or so) for a checkup if I weren’t on the pill, let’s add only $90 a year to the cost of pills, which makes the per-item cost more like $0.75. You can easily find condoms at drugstores and supermarkets in bigger packs that run about $0.50 a condom. If you don’t mind a little further searching, we were able to find condoms at Big Lots (unexpired, major brands) and on Amazon for more like $0.22 a condom or as low as $0.11 apiece. So, assuming we weren’t having sex multiple times every day (and, true confessions here, we weren’t), condoms were a lot more economical a decision. And just think, if you know the exact cost, you can decide how much sex is worth to you at any given opportunity. “Not tonight, honey. I’d rather save the 11 cents.” (In case you’re wondering, I also switched from dermatologically prescribed acne methods to over-the-counter ones that were cheaper and more effective. Funny how that works.)
If you’re using a different medical type of pregnancy prevention, your costs will vary, depending on how your insurance treats the visit, what the cost is for the procedure, and how often you need to see a health professional. Apparently, for instance, an IUD runs about 5-0 every five or ten years (depending on the type). Let’s say Sam and I have sex three times a week (yes, let’s say that, since it ain’t happening with a young baby right now) — over the course of five years, with the cheapest condoms, that would be $85.80. Ten years would still be cheaper than an IUD, at $171.60 See? Cheap. Now, if you can get reimbursed or deduct the cost of healthcare, that might mitigate the financial factor, since condoms are not considered a medical purchase. You’ll have to weigh out all the options for yourself and your family’s budget.
When I was trying to decide on a breastfeeding-friendly birth control, going back to condom use was a no-brainer. Since they’re an entirely non-hormonal barrier method, there’s no interference with milk supply and no transference to the baby. If you need a hormonal method, your doctor or midwife can point you toward hormonal methods that work better with breastfeeding, but I personally didn’t want to risk it. There are also other barrier methods, but the benefits of condom usage for me outweigh the other methods.
I also appreciated condoms when we were preparing for conception, which was incidentally around the same time as I stopped using my birth control pills for other reasons. As I weaned off the pills, I was able to see my true cycle emerging and I began to take my morning basal body temperature and chart my fertility symptoms. It was fascinating to me to see what my true fertility cycle was like. That honestly is the biggest factor in my not returning to a hormonal method of birth control. I hate the idea of masking my cycles again. I don’t know if this is simply an emotional reason, because I was happy enough on hormonal birth control before, but since becoming a mother, it’s been brought home to me how delightful and intriguing is the cycle of ovulation and bleeding, and I enjoy seeing it unfold as it’s meant to. I mean, I don’t enjoy every moment, but I don’t feel like interfering with it anymore. This is a personal thing, I do understand!
If you’re on other medications, you might find a barrier method a better fit for you as well. For instance, that combo of antibiotics and birth control pills? Not really a good one, after all. If you’re on any other treatments along with hormonal birth control, be sure to ask about any incompatibilities.
I seriously love how condoms make cleanup easy. And, here, just to extend the please-stop-talking-now factor, they can be beneficial when having sex during a period. Just saying.
Condoms come with instructions printed on the box. Follow the instructions. You’ll be fine. They’re cheap, so you can afford to throw one or two away as you learn.
Follow the warnings, too. Don’t put them on inside out. (Learning the difference between inside out and right side out was our steepest learning curve.) Don’t reuse them. Be cautious when taking them off — let the man grasp the edge before withdrawing and hold it on. And that’s about it.
Somewhat related, I’ve heard the Diva Cup and other menstrual cups can be incompatible with some women’s IUDs, which would be my next choice in birth control if I didn’t heart condoms so much. To me, that’s reason enough to stick with condoms, because making my period easy is worth it to me.
When Sam and I were first comparing birth control effectiveness, condoms were way down our list because of some reported effectiveness rates of 85 percent or so. That’s a huuuuge window of potential failure. Well, it turns out there are two types of birth control statistics: There’s what would happen in a lab, and what happens in the real world. The reason real-world condom effectiveness stats are sometimes laughably low is because people get to self-report their method of birth control. So, a person gets pregnant and is asked, “What’s your method of birth control?” She says, “Condom,” and that gets reported as a condom failure, even if she didn’t use a condom for the act where she got pregnant. So a more reliable effectiveness rating for unexpired condoms that are properly used and used every time would be around 98%. A lot depends on user error, in other words, rather than true condom failure. We’ve never had a condom break; only a few times have we had a slippage moment when withdrawing, and for only one of those times was pregnancy a concern. (This was very recently, just after the birth of our second son, and seemed to be the universe laughing at us for having finally stolen a moment to get it on.) I know you can’t go with what one person’s experience is with condoms as to their effectiveness, but all I can say is we got pregnant right away not using them.
You can add spermicide or use spermicidal condoms to boost the effectiveness factor, though for us that wasn’t an option, as Sam was allergic to the spermicide most commonly available in the US. (Speaking of allergies, if latex is a problem, there are non-latex condoms available.) We had a really tough time finding an alternate spermicide and gave up — with no unforeseen consequences to show for it. Then again, we are in a committed relationship and know we could handle having a baby at an unexpected moment, so remember to follow all condom precautions and consider spermicide if you’re very worried.
Another huge plus to me about condoms is they’re immediately reversible. Some hormonal methods, particularly injections like Depo Provera, can take a loooong time to clear your system and return your fertility. (I once used injections and had major hormonal withdrawal coming off them, with bizarre bleeding patterns.) Whereas, with condoms, if you want to try for another baby, you can do so on the turn of a dime. Which is, incidentally, exactly what we did rather spontaneously for our second baby — once again, we got pregnant our first try.
So there it is. I wanted to speak up for a method Sam and I have found enjoyable and beneficial to us, in case anyone else is in the same “condoms are icky” category we were in when we first married! Or, even if you’re more mature than that, if you’ve just never seriously considered condoms as a feasibility, give them another thought. They’re plenty easy, way cheap, and have low interference with your body other than just catching those determined little swimmers.
Have you used condoms? What do you like and not like about them?
Lauren blogs at Hobo Mama about natural and attachment parenting and is the co-founder of Natural Parents Network. She lives and writes in Seattle with her husband, Sam, four-year-old son, Mikko, and nine-month-old baby, Alrik.